It’s that time of year again. Doesn’t it come quick? A time for parties, family dinners and socializing. A real bright spot for most of us. For some, however, it can be a stressful and trying time of year.

I’ve been sober for five years from drugs and alcohol, and my first holiday season spent sober was not easy. Now, when it comes around to this time of year, I like to share some advice with those who are experiencing fear due to their newfound recovery.

I know this is hard for many of you, but you are not alone. You can absolutely survive—let’s go over the game plan!

Have a plan

grassy path with sign

The holiday season is going to look different for us all, obviously. Some of you will be away from your families for your first sober holiday season, and some of you will be smack dab in the middle of everything with your family.

Regardless of your situation, have a plan. Don’t wait until the last minute to decide how you are going to spend the day, or what you are going to do if you are feeling a little anxious or itching for something. Know exactly who you are going to call in case of emergencies, and find meetings in the area you will be in as a place to escape and get support.

You know what they say: You fail to plan, you plan to fail.

The big fellowships—Narcotics Anonymous (NA) and Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)—often hold marathon days where certain locations have a meeting for 24 hours straight on the date of a holiday.

That means no matter what time it is on Christmas or New Year’s Eve, you’ll have somewhere to go where people will understand your struggle and be there for you. I implore you to find the closest marathon meeting near you, ASAP! 

Work on your perspective

I know for me, during my first sober holiday season, I really needed to change my view on things. I wasn’t able to be with my family for the big holidays, and it really upset me. I was about six months sober and thought I deserved to be with everyone on the big day.

I was wrong.

The only thing I truly deserved was another day sober, and that’s just putting it bluntly. I’ll never forget being completely open with my sponsor about my dissatisfaction with the upcoming holidays, and he told me exactly what I needed to hear.

He told me that it was OK if this first Christmas didn’t turn out the way I had been envisioning it. I was sacrificing what I wanted to do for what I had to do, in order to ensure that every holiday season for the rest of my life would be a great one. It was the perfect thing for me to hear.

I was so stuck on thinking about myself and the moment that I hadn’t thought about the big picture. I wasn’t going to be away from my family on every holiday for the rest of my life, but for this one, I had to be, and that was OK. It was OK for me to be doing what I needed to do to live the life I had always wanted.

My sponsor promised me that the next Christmas would be better, provided I stayed on the path. He was right.

No matter your predicament at this time of year, you’ll need to talk to someone else to get a new perspective on it. I can never manage all the clutter in my head myself! When I put it out into the universe and let someone else take a look at how I am viewing everything, I often get life-changing feedback.

If you are unhappy with what your holidays may look like, you need to talk to someone. I promise it will make you feel better.

Practice gratitude

graffiti of homeless man with child

Gratitude is a powerful thing. It is also an action word. We practice gratitude; we don’t just say we feel it.

If you’re struggling with finding any positivity at this time of year, go help someone else. I can comfortably proclaim that you are not having the worst Christmas—there are plenty of people worse off than you, such as kids without parents, parents without money, families without homes. There are so many opportunities out there that will allow you to get outside of yourself and make someone else’s holiday special.

You know what the best part of doing this is?

As selfish as it may sound, it feels great. It feels great to go out of your own way to help improve an individual or family’s life when they are struggling. On my first Christmas Eve sober, I went to a homeless shelter and helped serve dinner to a cafeteria full of the nicest people who had nowhere to call home. The genuine appreciation they had for me just being there and helping out was better than any gift I could have asked for that year.

Do a little research in your area, as in most places, there will be plenty of opportunities for you to help others.

The biggest thing I realized on my first sober Christmas was that it really wasn’t as big of a deal as I made it out to be. However, I think it ended up going the way it did because I had a plan. I gained some new perspectives, and I was actively practicing gratitude and helping others. It wasn’t a typical holiday, and in retrospect, that made it very special.

I’ll never forget my first holiday season in recovery.

If you, too, take these tips into consideration and then put them into practice, I assure you that you will not only survive this holiday season—you will also appreciate it.

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